hard rock

REVIEW: Twisted Sister – Come Out and Play (1985)

“Twisted Sister…come out and play!”  Happy anniversary to Come Out and Play released on this day 34 years ago.

 

TWISTED SISTER – Come Out and Play (1985 Atlantic LP & Spitfire CD remaster)

What was a band at the proverbial crossroads to do? Continue along the commercial path of the 3 million copy selling Stay Hungry?  Or revert to the tried and true heavy-as-an-SMF sound of yore?

There was only one dissenting vote.  Bassist Mark “The Animal” Mendoza felt that putting “Leader of the Pack” on the new album was a mistake.  The other four voted “yes” but some grew to regret it.  Both Dee Snider and J.J. French have since realized the error of their ways.  Today, Come Out and Play is acknowledged as the beginning of the end, though it has its fans and some sturdy tracks to support it.

Twisted Sister recruited Scorpions producer Dieter Dierks and enlisted high profile guest stars like Alice Cooper, Billy Joel, Brian Setzer and Clarence Clemons.  They were top-loaded onto a old-time rock and roller called “Be Chrool to Your Scuel”, and the gamble backfired immediately when MTV banned the music video for its zombies and ghouls.  It’s an interesting track at least.  You don’t hear a sax solo on a Twisted Sister song every day, nor the kind of plucking that Brian Setzer deals in.

“Leader of the Pack” was a failure as well, actually a re-recording of a track that debuted on the Ruff Cuts EP.  The video (starring the then-hot Bobcat Golthwaite) further painted Twisted Sister as a novelty band.

Tensions, especially between Mendoza and Snider, were amplified.  The songs that sound like they were meant to be “hits” fall far short.  The impression you get from “You Want What We Got” is that it was intended to be a specific kind of hit.  Unfortunately it’s just a repetitive anthem.  “Lookin’ Out for #1” is similarly filler, a song that never quite clicks.

Some tracks maintained a heavy rock presence. They include the anthem “I Believe In Rock and Roll”.  It’s a manifesto for the PMRC generation; a decent attempt that just misses the mark.  “Come Out and Play” features A.J. Pero nailing down a speedy beat, but the production of Dierks neutered the powerful drummer.  Dierks introduced keyboards to some of the tracks, watering them down needlessly.  “The Fire Still Burns” works better than some of the other songs, and despite the production you can hear A.J. is just crushing the kit.  If the backing vocals sound unusually lush, that’s Don Dokken and Gary Holland.  “Out on the Streets” trades the speed in for plaintive melodies, and is the better for it.  Finally “Kill or Be Killed” does what it promises.  Unbelievable that A.J. could play at such a relentless velocity, but he was an absolute beast.

Strangely, some of the best tracks are the ballads.  Dark ballads.  Ballads of depression, of loneliness, of alienation.  “I Believe in You” is the first of two, bolstered by strong melodies and Dee Snider’s enviable pipes.  The one that impresses the most is the CD and cassette bonus track “King of the Fools”.  Although “Kill or Be Killed” ends the album just fine, this coda adds some substance.  Sounding like a man destroyed, Dee sings the melancholy lyrics.

What kind of kingdom has no throne?
No crown or castle do I own,
I don’t have silver gold or jewels,
Yet I’m the king, king of the fools.

It’s surprisingly thoughtful songwriting, complimenting the mournful melodies.  Yet there is a defiant, powerful streak in the choruses.

King of the fools,
Who are these people to cast stones?
King of the fools,
Better a fool than just a clone.

Dee Snider has always resonated with the underdogs, the bullied, the downtrodden.  “King of the Fools” might be the most honest of all those songs.  Some regal guitar melodies by J.J. French and Eddie “Fingers” Ojeda show that they were picking up what Dee was laying down.

Here’s the catch though.  If you’re buying this album, you need “King of the Fools”.  To get it, you’ll want the CD.  But Come Out and Play might be most notable for the album cover you can only get on vinyl.  Open up that manhole cover and out pops Dee Snider in all his…all his…rags.

Heeere’s Dee!

Do what I did.  Get CD and LP, just for the cover.  Everybody needs a pop-up Dee Snider.

2.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Little Caesar – Little Caesar (1990 cassette)

LITTLE CÆSAR – Little Cæsar (1990 DGC cassette)

I missed their first EP, Name Your Poison.  None of the local record stores knew who Little Caesar were, but rock magazines like Hit Parader were already tootin’ their horn.  When their major label debut Little Caesar hit the shelves, it was none other than Bob Rock in the producer’s chair.  “Chain of Fools” was selected for the lead single/video, which was probably a mistep.  It did show off Little Caesar’s knack for crossing Skynyrd’s southern rock innards with soul, but a more mainstream rocker like “Down-N-Dirty” would have been less of a shock to the uncultured longhairs of 1990.

Soulful blues rock was all the rage in 1990, with the likes of the Black Crowes and The London Quireboys hitting the charts.  Was Little Caesar just one too many bands?  They didn’t have the impact of the other two, though they certainly stacked up in the quality department.  Lead howler Ron Young’s lungs are enviable, with a southern gritty drawl and authenticity to go.*  The rock continues through “Hard Times”, which puts out a killer street rock vibe, able to tangle with any Hollywood competition.  “Chain of Fools” serves to show off Young’s limitless talents, but as a hard rock adaptation, falls shy of their original.

Diversity points are earned for a stellar ballad called “In Your Arms”, delivering on a solid soul vibe.  Young’s voice is the focus, revealing depth track after track.  There’s a darker turn on “From the Start”, foreboding but with anthemic chorus.  The first side’s closer puts you in a “Rock and Roll State of Mind” with a harmonica-inflected blues burner.

Gotta big monkey and he’s on my back,
It’s warmer than China, it’s better than crack,
It’s burnin’ like fire, it’s takin’ my soul, yeah,
So damn addicted to rock ‘n’ roll.

You may as well call this one my theme song.  The history of rock is delivered in under five minutes.

White boys stole it back in ’55,
Turned in to disco in ’75,
Said it all started with “Blue Suede Shoes”, yeah,
For years brothers called it just rhythm and blues.

Tell it how it is, brother!

Money can’t buy it ’cause it can’t be sold,
If you say it’s too loud, then you’re too fuckin’ old.

Flip the tape.  “Drive it Home” takes the car/sex metaphors to a dirtier level.  On, Ron, I bet you’d like to drive it home!  Another dusky ballad called “Midtown” changes the mood and the groove.  A ballad with balls and a banjo?  Then, “Cajun Panther” is its own descriptive, but the slippery guitar will hook you right in.  Greasy slidey goodness from Creedence county.  The next song, “Wrong Side of the Tracks” is actually closer to the mainstream and doesn’t stand out amongst more unique material.  Unique like “I Wish It Would Rain”.  It may be another ballad but its southern flavouring make it clearly different from anything on the radio in 1990.  “Little Queenie” nails the soul-rock vibe one last time, going out in style, but also with a song that doesn’t really sound like a closer.  Perhaps a little song shuffling would have put “Little Queenie” in a better spot to showcase its strengths.

Sonically, since this is a Bob Rock production, you already know what it sounds like.  It’s a big sounding album that captures the band in top shape and presents them in an appropriately dressed frame.  It’s a 12 track album and although that was becoming the norm, Little Caesar would have been a more effective debut if it were 10 songs, focusing on the ones that made it unique.

3.5/5 stars

 


* Tragically, Ron Young was killed in 1991 by a time-travelling Arnold Schwarzenegger, in Terminator 2: Judgement Day. **
** Fake News.  But he was in the movie and did get his ass kicked.

REVIEW: Whitesnake – Slip of the Tongue (6 CD/1 DVD 30th Anniversary box set)

WHITESNAKE – Slip of the Tongue (originally 1989, 2019 (6 CD/1 DVD 30th Anniversary Rhino box set)

There’s a theme you may have noticed every time we review a Whitesnake box set:  David does it right.

Here’s another one:  Coverdale cares.

Slip of the Tongue gets the super-deluxe treatment this time, the third of the “big three” to go that way.  This is the album that divided fans the most.  Replacing Vivian Campbell was none other than ex-David Lee Roth stringbender Steve Vai.

“What the hell would that sound like?” we all wondered.

Longtime Whitesnake fans felt it was a step too far into the world nebulously defined as “hair metal”.  Others loved the guitar mania inside, with Vai stretching out in ways different from his prior bands.  Not the “definitive” Vai record that they still wanted (and would get a year later), but certainly a platter they could sink their teeth into.  And it was a weird reason that Steve was playing on Slip of the Tongue at all.

As you’ll see from a feature on the included DVD (“A Look Back: Whitesnake Chronicles with DC and Adrian Vandenberg”), the album was written and thoroughly demoed with Adrian.  They wouldn’t need a guitarist until it was time to tour.  At this point, Adrian injured his wrist and was unable to finish.  Steve Vai and David Coverdale found that they got along famously and the seven-string wizard brought his unique and advanced stylings to the blues-based Whitesnake.

What the hell would it sound like?

It sounds absolutely mental.

With the benefit of now hearing all the demos that Adrian laid down, it’s obvious Steve Vai didn’t just pick up his guitar and play the parts.  It’s clear right from opener “Slip of the Tongue”.  Compare the album to Adrian’s demos on the other discs.  Vai changes one of the chord progressions to high-pitched harmonics, and, let’s face it, improves the song.  Elsewhere there are unique trick-filled runs and fills that add another dimension to the music.  If Whitesnake was always 3D rock, Vai upped it to 4.  The guitar work is blazingly busy, never cliche, and always to the advancement of the song.  With all respect to Adrian Vandenberg who wrote these great songs, Steve Vai was more than just icing on a cake.  Slip of the Tongue arguably sounds more a Vai album than Whitesnake, even though he didn’t write any of it.

The beauty of this set is that if you’re more into ‘Snake than alien love secrets, you can finally hear the purity of Adrian’s vision in the multitude of early demos included.

Unfortunately, if you’re familiar with the album you’ll hear something’s up by track 2.  “Kitten’s Got Claws”?  That song used to close side one.  What’s up?  The album running order has been tampered with, and so has “Kitten’s Got Claws”.  It’s now missing the Steve Vai “cat guitar symphony” that used to open it.  It could be a different remix altogether.  My advice is to hang on to your original Slip of the Tongue CD.  You’re probably going to still want to hear the album and song as they were.

This running order puts “Cheap An’ Nasty” third, a song that structurally resembles the ol’ Slide It In Whitesnake vibe.  Of course Vai’s space age squeals and solos modernized it.  Listen to that whammy bar insanity at the 2:00 mark!  Up next is “Now You’re Gone”, a classy rocker/ballad hybrid that has always been an album highlight.  The demos on the other discs allow us to hear how much this song was improved in the final touches.  That cool answering vocal in the chorus, and the hooks that Vai added, came much later.  Strangely, this box set puts the other ballad, “The Deeper the Love”, up next.  Keyboard overdubs made it a little too smooth around the edges, but a good song it remains.

The Zeppelinesque “Judgement Day” is a track that used to piss off some fans, who felt it was an abject rip off from “Kashmir”.  The Vai touch of sitar (replacing guitar in the early demos) probably aided and abetted this.  Regardless it succeeds in being the big rock epic of the album, and a favourite today.  Another strange choice in running order follows:  “Sailing Ships”, formerly the album closer.  It’s quite shocking to hear it in this slot.  Again, Vai replaced guitar with sitar, and David goes contemplative.  Then suddenly, it gets heavy and Steve takes it to the stratosphere.

“Wings of the Storm” used to open side two; now it’s after “Sailing Ships”.  Some tasty Tommy Aldridge double bass drums kick off this tornado of a tune.  Vai’s multitracks of madness and pick-scrapes of doom are something to behold.  Then it’s “Slow Poke Music”, a sleazy rocker like old ‘Snake.

The new version of Slip of the Tongue closes on “Fool for Your Loving”, a re-recording of an old classic from Ready An’ Willing.  The new version is an accelerated Vai vehicle, lightyears away from its origins.  Coverdale initially wrote it to give to B.B. King.  Vai is as far removed from B.B. King as you can imagine.  The original has the right vibe, laid back and urgent.  This one is just caffeinated.

The only album B-side “Sweet Lady Luck” is the first bonus track on Disc 1.  By now it is the least-rare B-side in the universe, having been reissued on a multitude of Whitesnake and Vai collections.  Valuable to have to complete the album, but easy to acquire.  It’s basically a second-tiered speed rocker with the guitar as the focus.  Other B-sides from this era were remixes, and they are included here as well.  The Chris Lord-Alge mix of “Now Your Gone” is the kind that most people won’t know the difference. Vai said that Lord-Alge could make the cymbals sound “like they have air in them.”  Then there’s the “Vai Voltage Mix” of “Fool for Your Loving”, which has completely different guitar tracks building an arrangement with way, way, way more emphasis on the instrument.  The rest of the disc is packed with four more alternate remixes:  “Slip of the Tongue”, “Cheap An’ Nasty”, “Judgement Day” and “Fool for Your Loving”.  These mixes have some bits and pieces different from the album cuts.  Vai fans will want the alternate solo to “Cheap An’ Nasty”, though it’s less whammy mad.

Of course, “Sweet Lady Luck” wasn’t the only song that didn’t make the album.  In old vintage interviews, Coverdale teased the names of additional tracks we didn’t get to hear:  “Parking Ticket”, “Kill for the Cut”, and “Burning Heart”.  They’ve been safely buried in Coverdale’s vault, until now.  Additionally, it turns out that Whitesnake also re-recorded a couple more of their old songs:  “Ain’t Gonna Cry No More” and “We Wish You Well”.  They’re all here in different forms on the demo discs.

Perhaps “Kill for the Cut” would have been one dirty song too many for the album.  It ain’t half bad, and has a unique little bumpin’ riff.  “Parking Ticket” had potential too.  Rudy Sarzo gave it a pulse that might have taken it on the radio.  The 1989 monitor mix would have been perfect for B-side release.  Why did Cov have to hold out on us all these years?  “Burning Heart” was a special song, a re-recording of an old Vandenberg track that David really loved.  Unfortunately the monitor mix is is only a skeleton of what could have been a sensational Whitesnake ballad.  “Ain’t Gonna Cry No More” is heavily modernized, with keyboards sounding like they were trying to recapture “Here I Go Again” (which they were).  “We Wish You Well” is more contemplative, with piano as the focus.

All of this previously unheard material is scattered over several discs.  “Evolutions” (Disc 3) is a familiar concept to fans of these box sets.  Demos from various stages of completion are spliced together into one cohesive track.   You will be able to hear the songs “evolve” as the band worked on them.  Every track from the album plus “Sweet Lady Luck”, “Parking Ticket” and “Kill for the Cut” can be heard this way.  Disc 4 is a collection of monitor mixes with all the album songs and all the unreleased ones too.  These discs are the ones that allow us to really hear the album the way it would have been if Adrian didn’t hurt his wrist.  We would have got an album that sounded a lot more like Whitesnake.  It was audibly different even if familiar.

Perhaps the best disc in the entire set is “A Trip to Granny’s House:  Session Tapes, Wheezy Interludes & Jams”.  It’s just as loose as it sounds.  Enjoy the funk of “Death Disco”, the funkiest David’s been since Come Taste the Band.  If you’ve always wanted to hear David sing “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Old Oak Tree”, now you finally can!  There’s a lot of goofing off in some of these tracks, but also a lot of rock.  It’s live off the floor as they rehearse the songs, as a four piece band with Adrian.  Not all the final lyrics or solos are set, but the songs are so raw and fresh.  Some of the jams show a side of Whitesnake we rarely got to see.  Kind of Purple-y in the way they just could take off and rip some blues.

 

Given all the rich audio extras, it’s OK if one of the CDs is a little impoverished.  That would be disc 2, “The Wagging Tongue Edition”.  This is a reproduction of an old promo CD, featuring the album Slip of the Tongue with a Dirty David interview interspersed.  This was meant for radio premieres.  It has the entire album in the correct order, but because it’s faded in and out of interviews, it’s really not a substitute for a proper copy of the original album.  At least the vintage 1989 interviews are interesting.  It saves collectors from buying a copy on Discogs.  (Coverdale claims “Judgement Day” was originally titled “Up Yours Robert”.  Ooft.)

There’s another disappointment here and it’s difficult to forgive.  In 2011, Whitesnake released the long awaited Live at Donington as a 2 CD/1 DVD package.  This brilliant performance finally gave us a permanent record of Whitesnake live with Vai.  In our previous dedicated review, we had this to say:

Musically, it’s a wild ride. It’s not the Steve Vai show. Adrian gets just as many solos, and his are still spine-tingling if more conventional. It is loaded with ‘Snake hits, leaning heavily on the three Geffen albums. In fact there is only one pre-Slide It In song included: The Bobby “Blue” Bland cover “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City”.  And, since it is also the pre-grunge era, there are plenty of solos, which today seems excessive.  Aldridge does his drum solo at the end of “Still Of The Night”. Vandenberg gets his “Adagio for Strato”/”Flying Dutchman Boogie”. Most excitingly, Steve Vai performs two songs from his then-brand new (and top 40!) album Passion And Warfare: “For The Love Of God” and “The Audience Is Listening”, with Aldridge on drums. Coverdale even introduces him as “Mr. Passion and Warfare!” so I imagine there was no sour grapes that Vai’s album was doing so well. And lemme tell ya folks — the audience WAS listening, and going nuts too!

Unfortunately, to save a little bit of plastic, this set was reduced to a single CD for its inclusion here.  The Vai and Adrian solos were cut, though Tommy’s drum solo in “Still of the Night” is retained.  To cut the guitar solos in such a guitar focused boxed set is not only unwise but unforgivable.  Fans who don’t have Live at Donington are going to want to shell out again just to get the solos.  Fortunately, the whole show is uncut on the included DVD.

The DVD has plenty of added value; it’s not just a reissue of Live at Donington.  You’ll get the three music videos from the album (“Now You’re Gone”, “The Deeper the Love” and “Fool for Your Loving”).  There’s even a brand new clip for “Sweet Lady Luck” cobbled together from existing video. Then, you can go deeper into the album. The aforementioned sitdown with David and Adrian is really enlightening.  Another behind the scenes feature narrated by David is fantastic for those who love to watch a band create in the studio.  Coverdale’s not a bad guitarist himself.

These Whitesnake box sets also include ample extras on paper.  There’s quite a nice miniature reformatted tour program with the majority of cool photos.  A large Slip of the Tongue poster can adorn your wall, or remain safely folded up in this box.  Finally, there is a 60 page hardcover booklet.  This is a treasure trove of press clippings, magazine covers, single artwork, and more.  Lyrics and credits wrap it all up in a nice little package.

Because we know that David puts so much into these box sets, it’s that much more heartbreaking that this one is so slightly imperfect.  The shuffled running order and lack of guitar kittens on “Kitten’s Got Claws” is a problem.  The truncated live album is another.  It means I have to hang onto old CDs that I was hoping to phase out of my collection in favour of this sleek set.  Alas, I’ll keep them as they are my preferred listening experience.

Otherwise, in every other way, this box set delivers.  It makes a lovely display next to its brethren and it justifies its cost.

4.5/5 stars

MORE Slip of the Tongue?

REVIEW: Twisted Sister – Big Hits and Nasty Cuts (1992)

TWISTED SISTER – Big Hits and Nasty Cuts (1992 Atlantic – Canadian CD)

When Twisted Sister split at the end of 1987, they went rather quietly into that goodnight.  No big magazine articles, no solo projects incoming, not until 1992 when Dee Snider finally re-emerged with his new band Widowmaker.  It was a quiet five years, broken only by the low key release of Twisted Sister’s first “greatest hits” compilation in March of that year.

Big Hits and Nasty Cuts was a compilation that both fans and band deserved.  No careless cash grabs here.  In 1992 it’s doubtful that Atlantic thought they’d be making much money off “I Wanna Rock”, one of the biggest cheerleaders of the obsolete generation.  While Kurt Cobain cashed his biggest royalty cheque yet, J.J. French was writing the liner notes for this CD.  (Mark “The Animal” Mendoza did the remastering with Ted Jensen.)

For the era, Big Hits and Nasty Cuts was one of the most fan-friendly, value-intensive CDs on the market.  Even better for American fans, this time they got the bonus track!  The album was split into two sides — the hits and the “nasty cuts”, all rare B-sides recorded at the Marquee club in England.  Fortunately the entire show has since been issued by Rhino, but in 1992, very few fans had the original 12″ singles these songs were sourced from.  Another rarity included was Twisted’s first single, “I’ll Never Grow Up, Now!”  These were first releases for the CD format!  Good thing too, because “I’ll Never Grow Up, Now!” is indelible as any of the hits.

The hits portion of the album isn’t quite predictable.  Would you have expected the heavy metal uppercut “Under the Blade”?  Or the raw “Shoot ‘Em Down”?  Here they are, and thanks to the liner notes, you can find out why.  (Oh fine, we’ll spoil one.  “Under the Blade” was included because it’s been played at every Twisted show since it was written.)  The three biggest hits are present and accounted for.  “I Wanna Rock” and “We’re Not Gonna Take It” would be the two hits that everyone knows, and “The Price” is runner-up.

Also present:  “I Am, I’m Me” and “The Kids Are Back” demonstrate Dee’s early knack for melodic songwriting, very punk-like in its simplicity especially when coupled with Twisted’s 4/4 rock.  “You Can’t Stop Rock and Roll” also had to be here.  Perhaps it’s Twisted’s best metal anthem.  Finally “Be Chrool to Your Scuel” featuring Alice Cooper ends the hits side with the last one chronologically.  (“Bad Boys of Rock and Roll” on the US version.)  There’s no “Leader of the Pack” and no “Hot Love”.  All hail the classic lineup:  Dee Snider – lead vocals.  J.J. French – guitar.  Eddie “Fingers” Ojeda – guitar.  Mark “The Animal” Mendoza – bass.  The late, underappreciated A.J. Pero – drums.  The lineup that set MTV on fire relied on catchy videos, yes, but the songs have survived equally well.

The nasty cuts may just be too heavy for the average listener.  Recorded to 2-track tape, there’s no fixing the mixes here.  The lengthy start to “What You Don’t Know (Sure Can Hurt You)” includes Lemmy’s intro and plenty of noise. There is no overlap with any other songs on the CD.  “Destroyer” grinds so hard it’s almost a parody of itself.  “Tear It Loose” is out-of-control fast, blowing away the album version.  The US got “Run For Your Life” right after “Tear It Loose”, another fast rendition once it kicks in.  (In Canada, “Run For Your Life” was only on cassette.)  The cover tunes “It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll” and “Let the Good Times Roll/Feel So Fine” include plenty of crowd interplay.  Just the thing to turn off Joe Average Listener, but amazing to hear the energy of the band and audience that night.

The live cuts really highlight, with 20/20 hindsight anyway, the power of A.J. Pero.  The guy could really kill a drum kit, and his timekeeping is the cornerstone of what made Twisted Sister heavy.

Don’t buy this CD if you’re looking for a party CD.  Buy it because you’re intrigued and want to learn more about a band who doesn’t get enough credit for being one of the world’s most dangerous.  Buy it to check out the rarities and get a taste of what those in the know had in their collections back in 1983.  Buy it because you’re going to get liner notes and photos of band members you never even heard of before.  Buy it because this is a great compilation, done with loving care and value.

5/5 stars

Just Listening to…Whitesnake: Slip of the Tongue (30th Anniversary)

Sit down Sykes fans, because I’m a Vai kid and this is “my” Whitesnake.  The fact that this lineup existed at all is miraculous.  The most creative guitarist of all time joining one of the most successful commercial rock bands at the peak of their popularity?  Recipe for, at the very least, interesting history.  And absolutely perfect box set fodder.

So here we are buying Slip of the Tongue for at least the third time, and finally getting it (mostly) right.  At a quick glance, it appears the only detriment to buying this box set is that you will not get the complete Live at Donington concert on CD.  In order to fit the whole thing on one CD (disc 6), they axed all the solos.  Let’s face it folks.  When your band includes Steve Vai, you don’t cut the solos.  You’ll have to shell out for the original triple disc Donington set to get them on CD.  The good news is that the whole Donington concert is still here on video, on a fully-packed DVD (disc 7).  (The DVD also includes a detailed interview with David Coverdale and Adrian Vandenberg, touching on Adrian’s mysterious 1989 wrist injury.)

The running order of the songs on Slip of the Tongue, the 30th anniversary remaster, has been slightly shuffled.  It’s strange and off-putting enough that I’m keeping my old copy of the album, so I can still listen to it the familiar way.  “Sailing Ships” isn’t the last song?  “Fool For Your Loving” is.  The bonus track versions included, with alternate solos and guitar fills, are stunning additions.  Then there’s an entire CD, the “Wagging Tongue” edition, with the songs in the correct order but interviews with David interspersed.  This is a reproduction of a vintage 1989 promo CD, for contemporary perspective.   Disc 3, the “Evolutions” CD, is a favourite.  The “Evolutions” series of tracks, now a Whitesnake reissue trademark, mixes early demos with later demos and and even later versions, so you can hear the tracks evolve as you listen.  It’s deconstruction and reconstruction in one.  Importantly, you finally get to hear what the album would have sounded like before Steve Vai came in to record it.  Disc 4 includes 16 monitor mixes, including some superior rarities.  Finally, after 30 years of waiting and teasing, we get the unreleased tunes “Parking Ticket”, “Kill for the Cut”, and “Burning Heart” (originally by Vandenberg).  We also get “Ain’t Gonna Cry No More” and “We Wish You Well”.  Verdict?  Worth the wait.  Oh, so worth the wait!  There’s no reason some couldn’t have been released as B-sides in 1989, and they should have!  “Parking Ticket” has a neat Van Hagar-like, and could have been a summer hit.

Disc 5 is “A Trip to Granny’s House”, actually the name of a rehearsal studio they used.  These funny tapes, “Wheezy Interludes & Jams”, are informal fun.  A highlight is the funky “Death Disco”, not unlike some of the stuff Purple were doing with Tommy Bolin towards the end.  These tracks predate Steve Vai’s involvement, so you’ll get the purity of Adrian’s original playing.

I look forward to investing more time with this box set.  Let us hope that David continues to empty the vaults.  Next up: Restless Heart?

REVIEW: Wolfsbane – Live Fast, Die Fast (1989 cassette)

WOLFSBANE – Live Fast, Die Fast (1989 Def American cassette)

Blaze Bayley did not emerge from out of nowhere when he joined Iron Maiden.  Six years before The X Factor, Bayley released his debut album with Wolfsbane, produced by Rick frickin’ Rubin of all people.  Presumably this means Rick laid on a couch and didn’t wear shoes.  Let’s have a listen, then.

“Man Hunt” is Van Halen meets Iron Maiden; as bizarre as that concoction may sound is half as much as it is good!  It’s EVH and DLR, “Back in the Village”, hunting for painted ladies.  Blaze shows off some impressive pipes, but guitarist Jase Edwards showcases all the good things you can do with a speedily-played six-string.  Dirty Blaze must have hooked up with a bird according to “Shakin'”, which takes the sound back into the pocket.  A Dokken/Halen hybrid with a touch of sleaze, and certainly harder edged than what most American bands were doing in 1989.  “Killing Machine” sounds a bit like a lost Van Halen demo from 1977 but with a 1980s heavy metal drummer instead of Big Al.  There’s no break between it and “Fell Out of Heaven”, acting like one big multi-parted song.  Blaze is on the make again, sounding like a big dirty Ian Astbury.  Add in the absolutely blitz of “Money to Burn” and you have a definitive “lust” trilogy.

Side two opens with a punchy tune called “Greasy”, possessing an unholy scream that you wish they would have utilized in Maiden.  “I Like It Hot” is the funny summer cruisin’ tune, one the most commercial song on the album that is decidedly not commercial.  You can sing along to the terrific chorus on “All Or Nothing” but the blitzkrieg speed makes it clearly radio unfriendly.  The only power ballad “Tears From a Fool” is harder edged with a long solo, uncompromised and remote.  And with not even a breath’s break, “Pretty Baby” concludes this album-length treatise on picking up chicks in an accelerated manor.

The sonics of this Rick Rubin production are typically dry and crisp, but with an annoying snare drum sound that makes you question his hearing.  He arranged some cool gang vocals with both melody and rawness, but Live Fast, Die Fast doesn’t have any special sonic qualities that scream “Rubin”.

Wolfsbane happened an interesting niche here.  They blended the best aspects of American hard rock, tossed it with some heavy fucking metal, and a singer who didn’t sound like everyone else (with a dirty mind).  It was dangerous and it was different.

Was it good?  Yeah!  To quote the Heavy Metal Overlord, even Rick Rubin couldn’t fuck it up.

4/5 stars.

REVIEW: Tom Keifer Band – Rise (2019) #keiferband

TOM KEIFER BAND – Rise (2019 Cleopatra)

The most surprising new release of 2019, to this listener anyway, has been the new Tom Keifer album.  It’s been a long time since I’ve given the Cinderella frontman any eartime, and I didn’t know what to expect from him in 2019.  What I got was “Holy Shitballs, this fucking rocks!”  Rise is earthy, bluesy but also with the rock side of Cinderella bursting at the seams.  It almost sounds like a direct continuation of the final Cinderella album Still Climbing.

Wicked slide guitar opens “Touching the Divine”, one of the songs that will directly appeal to fans of Keifer’s old band.  Backed by soulful backing singers, Keifer still reaches for the screamin’ vocals for a good mix of new and old.  Words like “greasy”, “rootsy”, and “heavy” all come to mind.  Even the softer songs have a weight and gravitas that old Cinderella didn’t always have.  Take “Waiting on the Demons” for example.  It’s soft, southern and Band-like.  But it is its own kind of heavy.

The album doesn’t need to be dissected track by track here, but some songs need to be addressed.  The title track “RISE” (all caps!) is stunningly soulful and epic, and many fans have really connected with the slower, marauding “Untitled”.  Whatever songs grab your fancy, you’ll hear something that you like.  Whether it’s a Crowes-like blues, rockers akin to Cinderella, or something new, Tom Keifer’s got a variety of great tunes here.  Not good, but great.  Nothing to skip.  Just 11 songs that will grow on you and then fade as others steal their sunshine.  And the guitar playing?  Keifer and Tony Higbee lay down some serious, grinding six-string hooks.  It’s guitar nirvana for fans of this kind of rock.  Acoustic, electric, slide — doesn’t matter.  It’s all good.

My personal favourite?  “All Amped Up”, the riffiest song of the batch.

Keifer has assembled a stunning band here, a seven-piece including his wife Savannah on vocals and piano.  He took a left turn away from the 80s and into something more real.  It paid off.  This is a contender for the annual Top 5 list, easily.

5/5 stars

#782: Eliminated Headlight Restored

A sequel to #760: Eliminated Headlight

I saw Eliminator was now a one-eyed cyclops car. A headlight came off and was nowhere in sight. It’s gone. If it had simply fallen off, it would be on the shelf, next to the car. I only had two suspects. One of the two was more credible, while the other claims to know nothing. I know it was my dad!

 

 

GETTING MORE TALE #782:  Eliminated Headlight Restored

The old cottage bedroom isn’t the safe storage space it used to be!

For over 30 years, my old Monogram model kit of ZZ Top’s “Eliminator” car sat undisturbed.  The shelf it occupied was shared by a stunningly beautiful red Ferrari Testarossa, some old books, and several Lego battle droids.  Eliminator’s structure held sound, with only minor repairs needed over the years to keep it intact.

Then one day in 2019 a headlight went missing.  We didn’t need a confession to know that my dad did it while puttering around!

I thought the story was over, but a few weeks ago my dad said to me “I found your headlight”.

What?  Did it just fall behind the bed?

“No, I got you a new one!”

Right on, thanks dad!  Did you find an old model kit on Ebay?

“No, I saw a brand new one at the hobby store and picked it up for you!”

I couldn’t believe my luck!  But what are the chances the kits are the exact same?  Could I simply swap out an old headlight for a brand new one?

Turns out, I can.  Both kits are 1/72 scale, and though the new one is made by Revell instead of Monogram, they are identical.  Revell actually bought out Monogram in 2007, so they must have acquired these old molds and reissued the exact same kit.

Opening the kit and seeing the exact parts, I found myself at a crossroads.  I did a good job back in 1987-88 when I built my original Eliminator.  There are some things I would change; I would have painted the red engine block to be more accurate if I had another crack at it.  And now I do.  Or, I could just glue the new headlight onto the old car and leave it be.

Pros to building a new car:

  • Fixing mistakes I made as a kid, like the engine colour.
  • A higher budget, better tools, access to more paints.

Cons:

  • Possibly screwing up and wrecking a new model kit.
  • I hate, hate, hate water decals.
  • Realising I’m not as good at this as I used to be.

“You know my hands aren’t as steady as they used to be,” I told my dad.

“Fuck your hands!” he responded.

I turned to my mom and asked if she just heard what he told me to do.  She did and said I should write about it.

Betcha didn’t expect that’s where this story would go at the start!  I neglected to take my father’s advice, but vowed to tell the tale in my own way.

The end.

 

 

The ZZ Top Eliminator Project will continue in Summer 2020.  What would you do with the model kit?  Let us know in the comments below.

 

REVIEW: Impellitteri – Stand In Line (1988)

3000th POST!


IMPELLITTERI – Stand In Line (1988 Relativity)

There was a time when I’d buy any “supergroup” with members that I knew.  Impellitteri had three:  Graham Bonnet (Rainbow – vocals), Chuck Wright (Quiet Riot – bass) and Pat Torpey (Mr. Big – drums).  This release on Relativity records is basically a showcase for guitarist Chris Impellitteri, and unfortunately that’s exactly what it sounds like.  In the credits, Chris states “I promise that my guitar solos will only get faster”.  That should tell you everything you need to know about Stand in Line.

Sounding indistinguishable from an Yngwie album, the title track goes first.  It boasts some pretty mean Graham Bonnet vocals, but the song sounds exactly like Malmsteen to a “tee”.  And it’s one of the best songs.  The star is actually Pat Torpey (rest in peace, rock soldier) who rarely got to drum so heavy.

A couple misguided covers don’t do this album any favours.  The new version of “Since You Been Gone” metalizes the Rainbow original, and it can’t stand up under the weight.  (Interesting note:  this track features Randy Rand from Autograph on bass.)  It’s too stiff, too schooled, too…supergroup-y.  Same with “Over the Rainbow”, which has some beautiful runs, but is otherwise overplayed.  Squealing solos don’t compensate for Ritchie Blackmore, or a tight band.

Highlights:  “Stand In Line”, “Tonight I Fly”.
Turds:  “White and Perfect”, a song about colonialism!

Credit where it’s due:  Chuck Wright plays some unison lines in sync with Chris Impellitteri, showing off abilities that he doesn’t often exploit.  Likewise with Pat Torpey.  Unfortunately Stand in Line is too generic (if you can call “Yngwie” an actual genre), and there’s already one neo-classical shredder on the top of the pile.  Impellitteri spices his playing up with some Van Halen-esque tricks, but all I can hear is Yngwie, and you will too, right down to the production.  Most of the pleasure derived from this album is courtesy of Graham Bonnet, but chances are you already own this if you’re a Bonnet obsessive-compulsive!

2/5 stars

Side note:  This CD was salvaged by me, as it had been close to ruined by a house fire!  Somebody sold me his stinky CD collection, many of which were scorched.  The smell (burned paper and plastic) was unholy. This was one of the lesser-destroyed albums, but you can still see some browning on the top edge of the inside cover, where the smoke and heat got to it. With a lot of effort and gentle cleaning products, I eliminated of the smell and most of the stains.

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Angel of Retribution (2004 CD/DVD)

“Sabbath are heavy, but Priest are metal.” – K.K. Downing

JUDAS PRIEST – Angel of Retribution (2004  Sony CD/DVD deluxe set)

Like Iron Maiden before them, Judas Priest pulled off a successful reunion tour before venturing into the studio to record a new album.  When the new music finally came, a deluxe package was made available featuring live videos from the reunion tour.  In this deluxe-sized review, we’ll take a close look at both the CD and DVD content.


The CD

Pure anticipation preceded the arrival of the Angel of Retribution.  Two underwhelming albums with Tim “Ripper” Owens on lead vocals caused Judas Priest’s star to diminish in the 90s and 2000s.  The return of the Metal God, Rob Halford, meant a reunion of the successful 1990-1991 Painkiller lineup.  The new album cover even featured the return of the Painkiller character, now the Angel of Retribution.  But a long time had passed.  Could Priest hope to live up to the hype, and their legacy?

The answer is mixed.  While Angel of Retribution contains enough classic Judas Priest metal to consider it a success, it also has some truly legendary filler, of sub-Ram It Down quality.  Instead of running through the album track by track, let’s break it down in terms of song integrity.

Priest wrote a natural sounding album, with elements from virtually all eras of Priest past.  They say it came about organically, and it does sound that way.  Some of the best material are the songs that sound like variations of classic Priest.

The opening song “Judas Rising” brings it back to 1976’s Sad Wings of Destiny with that fade-in opener inspired by “Victim of Changes”.  Then it transforms right into the Painkiller era, with something that sounds like a far more intense “Hell Patrol”.  Solid 5/5.

The slightly psychedelic first single “Revolution” ranks among the better songs, although perhaps it’s actually most similar to “Little Crazy” by Rob Halford’s Fight.  It has flavours of Rocka Rolla and Killing Machine, and is far from what anyone expected Priest to put out for a first single.  Dig that slide guitar bit in the solo!  Solid 5/5.

Worth Fighting For” isn’t a ballad; it’s a little harder edged than that.  It’s the one song that is unique in the Priest catalogue, and remarkably strong.  The riff has a nice chug to it, while Rob ably carries the melody to a higher place.  A special song, and a 5/5.

Demonizer” is Jugulator meets Painkiller, faster than a hellriding devil dog (whatever that is), but “the Painkiller rises again!”   So testifies Halford.  It’s so ridiculously over the top that it can only be worth a solid 5/5.  Likewise the similar “Hellrider” on side two.  Both feature double bass so fast that it’s almost a parody of itself, but both rock so hard you’ll break your neck keeping up.  “Hellrider” is also notable as the song where Rob Halford inexplicably name drops “Megatron”.  Similar songs, both solid 5/5’s.

The ballad “Angel” is a little soft, unexpectedly so on an album with so much heavy metal.  Yet, Priest can do anything.  The acoustic “Angel” could be the quietest ballad since the early days.  “Put sad wings around me now,” sings Rob to the angel, an appropriate callback.  As his voice aged it acquired more depth.  That helps make “Angel” a respectable 4/5.

Deal With the Devil” and “Wheels of Fire” fall in a netherworld of pedestrian Priest.  These both feel like filler from Point of Entry or Ram it Down.  Less explosive, less memorable.  The autobiographical “Deal With the Devil” is amusing for its many lyrical callbacks: “Under blood red skies”, “Took on all the world”, references to razor blades.  Likewise the short one, “Eulogy“, which is really an intro for another song that we’ll get to.  “They remain still as stained class”, “Guarded by the Sentinel”, and so on.  3/5 each.

The worst of all songs is “Loch Ness“, a mess so atrocious that we had to devote an entire entry just to that one song.  Combined with its intro “Eulogy”, it’s over 15 minutes of mire that has no reason to exist.  Many people simply stop the album after “Hellrider” and leave this foul turd to rot unheard.  “Loch Ness” could very well be the worst Judas Priest song of all time.  A flaming turd to extinguish all flaming turds.  The worst of all putrid, rancid filler songs ever foisted upon the faithful.  0/5.

 


“Reunited” DVD

It’s worth getting a copy of this album with the bonus DVD.  For one, there’s a documentary from the Priest Reunited tour.  Secondly, there are seven uncut live songs here for you to enjoy, and it’s the only official video release from the Reunited tour.  The live footage is something to see, especially if you own the robotic Rising in the East DVD.  In that concert, Rob Halford was a stiff mannequin instead of a frontman.  Here, he comfortably in charge and engaged.  The entire lineup is energized.  “Breaking the Law” sees them powered up and working hard.

But how did the seemingly unlikely reunion begin?  According to the documentary, the band and Halford met to discuss the forthcoming Metalogy box set.  Glenn Tipton states that they decided to reunite later the same day.  It was like they’d never been apart.  Terribly British, says Rob.  “Have a cup of tea, see you later.”  Rob does express regret for his actions (reportedly he gave Judas Priest his notice in 1992 by fax), but it seems all was forgiven over time.

Beware which version you buy.  This CD/DVD combo set contains the documentary plus the full live songs:  “Breaking the Law”, “Metal Gods”, “A Touch of Evil”, “Hell Bent for Leather”, “Eletric Eye:”, “Diamonds & Rust”, and “Living After Midnight”.  The DualDisc version does not; it only includes edited fragments of those tracks.  Which is a shame, because the band sounded fantastic and Rob was in full-lunged form.  This is probably the best live version of “A Touch of Evil” available, for example.  Not everyone likes the acoustic version of “Diamonds & Rust”, but it’s certainly different. The only bonus to DualDisc is that you also get the album in “enhanced stereo”.  Avoid that; get this.


Although Angel of Retribution is overall a very strong Judas Priest album, “Loch Ness” is impossible to ignore.  It does serious damage to an album that was otherwise an impressive listen.  In the included DVD, K.K. Downing says they had to pick and choose from an overabundance of songs.  Can you imagine how bad the leftovers are if “Loch Ness” made the album?

3.5/5 stars